The Lakers’ Christmas Day victory over the Boston Celtics was inspiring. It was just one game in an 82-game schedule, as both teams pointed out, but it did have considerable value.
The Lakers proved to themselves they could beat the NBA champions. They showed that having 7-foot Andrew Bynum on the court could alter the outcome. Since Bynum didn’t play in last season’s championship series, there was no disputing that fact.
As I departed Staples Center I mingled with gleeful fans. The Lakers’ ability to win that game significantly boosted the hopes of their fans. But, unfortunately, something else is going on with the Lakers these days. They have to cope with the loss of Jordan Farmar for eight weeks and it’s not going to be easy.
Farmar suffered an injury to his left knee and underwent surgery. He wasn’t a starter but was a valuable member of the team. A victory such as the one over the Celtics creates headlines nationally and becomes one of the season’s memorable moments, but when I judge NBA happenings I factor in their impact in the long run.
There are 48 minutes per game and 82 games between November and April – all of that merely establishing positions for the all-deciding playoffs. The champion of any season is a team that played very well and escaped key injuries. Or, in some cases, overcame key injuries.
Why would Farmar, who averages just eight points per game, be so important? Most important, it messes up the Lakers’ substitution pattern. The Lakers were steamrolling their way through the NBA early this season because they had games covered for the entire 48 minutes. Their outstanding starters built leads, then the second unit then came in. The hope is they don’t give up the majority of the lead, but this season the second unit was increasing leads, making victory almost certain.
The catalysts of the second unit were Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, and Farmar. Now, the first unit is borrowing Odom because Coach Phil Jackson hasn’t trusted Bynum in key situations. And Farmar is suddenly out. So the second unit isn’t going to continue being a huge factor unless something happens.
That could be Derek Fisher playing more minutes, Sasha Vujacic playing as effectively as last season, or a player being signed to take Farmar’s minutes.
Fisher’s minutes have gone up and he says he can handle increased duty. But it probably isn’t a good idea. He’s not a kid anymore and they shouldn’t wear him out before the playoffs begin. Vujacic was injured when this season began and isn’t currently the player he was a year ago. Counting heavily on him over the long haul may be a mistake.
Another player may be signed, but finding one who can make a difference as Farmar did with his energy and skills is a long shot.
General Manager Mitch Kupchak didn’t hurry into a solution because he’s evaluating the list of potential prospects. He says several could make up the lost offense but it’s hard to find one who could match Farmar’s defensive contribution.
The Lakers probably better make some move because the Celtics are trying to upgrade their roster and one addition could swing momentum back into their favor. The name I’m hearing is Dikembe Mutombo, the long-time defensive star who was Houston’s backup center last season but became a free agent.
He considered retiring but recently decided to continue playing. Several teams are interested and he seems to favor the Celtics. Mutombo could come in when Kendrick Perkins needs a rest and the Celtics could have a shot-blocking center in the game at all times.